Tag Archives: feminism

Getting ugly

Yesterday I read a piece in the Guardian by Barbara Kingsolver entitled “#MeToo isn’t enough. Now women need to get ugly

It was a thought-provoking piece and I am still mulling it over today, in light of world news, and in light of experiences I have had in my life and career.

“Patriarchy persists because power does not willingly cede its clout; and also, frankly, because women are widely complicit in the assumption that we’re separate and not quite equal.”

She explains how we are so embedded within the patriarchy that sometimes it is difficult to perceive it. I have heard patriarchy likened to being a fish in water, but not knowing what “water” is – it is the stuff we swim around in every day. We do not know what it is because we have never been without it for any length of time. Patriarchy is like water: it envelopes our lives in such a way that it becomes our reality.

But fortunately humans are not fish. And our breathing is not dependent on the existence of the patriarchy, though it may seem like our livelihoods indeed depend on it for many.

I realize part of my aversion to corporate life these days reflects partly an exhaustion with a patriarchal system that does not value work based on merit. It privileges the contributions of one gender over another. It does not value people and their multiplicity of contributions, the range of what they could bring to the table when given an opportunity.

I am fortunate to work in a company that places a high value on employees as people, and usually lives up to that tenet of our mission. But looking at a wall of inductees to its highest scientific honor society, counting the ~70 people’s faces and realizing that just 10% of them our women, I sigh and wonder.

There are so many barriers to women attempting to enter realms of work like science, engineering, politics, higher management. Some of these barriers are internal: we lack  confidence or we are not sure we have the competence to enter. We erect higher standards for ourselves than men have to try these positions, and worry more about making mistakes.

The socialization of women and girls has evolved a bit in the 4+ decades since I was born. The availability of sports teams and competitive opportunities has allowed more of us to challenge ourselves and take leadership in new areas. And yet when we lack critical mass, we must work much harder to build professional alliances and networks.

getting ugly

The “old boys club” is very much a reality in many of the corporate environments where we work. My own experience has shown me that men who mentor and sponsor us at work can be professional and appropriate in their behavior. But patriarchy functions subtly here as well.

My boss treats me a bit like a daughter figure – I can tell he is proud of me and my achievements. He wants me to “brag” more and to make sure others know about my accomplishments.  He allows me to make my own mistakes and learn from my experiences. But he has also been protective of me in a way that may be different from how he has treated his male proteges. Whether that is an aspect of personality or of systemic bias, it is impossible to really separate out. We swim in patriarchy so clear vision is obscured.

This morning I will return to a project group of mostly men (25% women) to work on a design project for technology that needs an upgrade. I found myself wanting to share more of my creativity yesterday during the “ideation” phase of our human-centered design process. But I found myself holding back. I was not sure why. The group is unfamiliar to me, and that is a barrier sometimes.

It does no good to blame the patriarchy when we struggle to get our ideas out, when there are also internal barriers as well. But it does help to understand the context of why women are less confident putting themselves out there. Kingsolver notes: “It’s really not possible to overreact to uncountable, consecutive days of being humiliated by men who say our experience isn’t real…” 

Exactly. This type of rape culture makes working “outside our comfort zone” a regular and daily occurrence. Is it any wonder that taking risks in business or engineering feels so dangerous? While many of us learn to live and even thrive in these environments, we also realize women are disproportionately attacked and thus we remain on guard for more of waking hours.

I am contemplating the the notion of getting ugly as Kingsolver recommends. I definitely think we need to dispense with making ourselves pretty and “acceptable” and comfortable for men. It simply does not serve anyone, ourselves or the wider world, to neglect the gifts and talents of half the world’s population.

Men have been ugly to women privately in ways that are now becoming public. And it has caused some seismic shifts in the way women realize how non-personal and cultural all of that behavior has been. I agree that we must never tolerate this behavior, and if that makes me ugly, I am fine with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Drop the ball

Drop the ball – and other surgery-related wisdom.

Some of you regular readers to my blog might know that I was hospitalized 10 days ago for an emergency appendectomy surgery. Fortunately my recovery continues to go well, and I am truly grateful for the wonderful care I received, and for my husband picking up the ball as I dropped it.

Last February I encountered a Good Life Project podcast with Tiffany Dufu, who had written a book bearing the title: Drop the Ball: Achieve More by Doing Less. In it she explores the her journey as a feminist woman and the issues she discovered about managing things at home with her also feminist husband after returning to work post-pregnancy.

Women still experience the Second Shift (a term coined by Arlie Hoschild in 1989) which describes the process of the second job many of them work when they return home, to take care of the housework and child care, even after working a full day outside of the home. But Tiffany Dufu helped me see it at another level. She helped me understand that the kind of perfectionism we apply to our home lives does not serve us as women. She refers to it as “home control disease.”

We often fail to ask for help from our spouses or male partners, instead taking tasks on because we “know he won’t do it right” or have higher standards for cleanliness. In my previous relationship, I was very conscientious about learning to put up with mess and clutter. I know that he didn’t care about it, so I wasn’t going to become someone’s idea of a Latina housewife, or maid or cleaning lady. I simply blocked out the mess in my mind.

drop the ball

I was recently noting the Christmas cards I received this year, and the fact that ALL of them (save for one, but he has an assistant who I am sure sent them out) were from women. It is Moms, Aunts and Grandmas that send holiday cards, not Dads, Uncles and Grandpas.

I caught myself chiding myself for not being organized enough to get cards out this year, especially because I was planning to put wedding pictures in there. But then I thought: my husband is not doing that. He has no expectation that he must do things like Christmas cards each year. Most husbands are not expected to do that, nor do they chide themselves for being disorganized. That’s already been delegated (in their heads) to their wives.

Then I considered the fact that I always clean up and de-clutter before our cleaning service arrives once a month to clean the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Usually this means excess clutter gets dropped in the bedrooms, where we do not ask them to clean. I continue to cut down on clutter, but it still seems to multiply, maybe when I am not looking…

But why is it that I run around (usually frantic) trying to clean each month? This time, my surgery recovery really slowed down that process and I had to think it through.

I realize it reflects a lot of privilege on my part to have someone to come in to clean. My husband and I do not even own a house together yet, but I knew this would be a non-negotiable if we moved in together. I simply will not become someone’s housewife, and I know that would be my temptation.

But I still de-clutter and ask my husband to do the same each month. He has no worries about others’ judgment of him for his messy habits (as I do, apparently). But he usually obliges unless he is sick or something, in which case I pick up the slack.

Holidays are like this too: how often is it the women you see planning the holiday meals, decorating and making things festive? How often do we come down on a guy for not hosting a party, or not picking up his home? And yet, as women, how often do we self-criticize for a bunch of household chores that really are voluntary to complete?

I realize this is a bit of a rant, but I think it deserves some thought. What is it you REALLY have to do today, and are there places you have not thought about sharing the load with a spouse or partner? 

 

 

 

 

 

Bienvenidos a México

I am in Mexico City today to conduct three interviews for our clinical research specialist opening in the local office here. I also get to visit with a colleague who is no longer in my group but is one of my favorite people in my company. I am grateful for this opportunity to connect with her, and she agreed to help with the interviews.

It will be a busy Tuesday but I wanted to check in and say: if you have never been to a big city that is constantly alive and awake, come to Mexico City. You think New York City has options? Pshaw! It has nothing on this city. I’m serious! I am in Colonia Napoles which is a nice part of the city, near where my office is located, and the neighborhood of Frida Kahlo, apparently.

novit chocolates

Look at this adorable little bag of chocolates from the hotel. I know, I get excited about small things. But it’s the little things that make me happy, you know?

I started reflecting on the fact that having a U.S. passport is a privilege I should not take for granted. Then I started thinking of all the potential leadership development projects I could undertake with various Mexicanas and other Latinas I know. I got really excited thinking about this possibility and a little chill down my spine.

Oh, I have to pay attention to those signs. And I do. It is good right now that I have a job that affords me the luxury of traveling down here. I do not take that for granted. I’m starting to re-frame what I am doing and think about other ways I can execute my personal life goals in a way that is meaningful to me.

Cheers & have a great week. If you love Mexico as much as I do, check out my previous post on this topic which has better pics. Adios, amigos/as!

Father Hunger

I am writing a piece about my father this week, to honor him for his 75th birthday this Wednesday. I kept thinking about an episode of On Being with Krista Tippett. It was a conversation with Franciscan Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (Albuquerque) in which they explored the concept of “father hunger” in so many men.

Rohr referred to his experience as a jail chaplain in which he found that the universal commonality he found among the people he encountered in jail was that it was rare, if ever, to find someone who had a good father. Many had alcoholic, emotionally unavailable or abusive fathers. He explains that the rage that results from this early experience moves out toward all of society, a mistrust of all authority figures, policemen, etc.

It creates an interesting bind when we think of God as “the heavenly Father,” a masculine figure. For someone who has never experienced a loving male in their lives to hear that “God, the Father, loves you” does not have any connection or sense of truth in it, given the lived experience.

I wonder sometimes if our need to see god as a father figure just reflects our lack of father presence in our lives. My personal view of god(dess) is that she may be female, and more likely gender-less or gender-full. Certainly beyond our understanding when it comes to gender. If I look at god as creator, I believe there are elements of the divine feminine and divine masculine contained within.

The dynamic quality of nature, and the complementary elements we encounter in our explorations of science make that abundantly clear to me.

This is where I think the patriarchy fails us in terms of validating and reinforcing the role of fathers in giving care and attention to children. Mother is seen as the primary care-giver. And while there is no doubt mother gets “stuck” with the care of children and perhaps many mothers viscerally relate to that, men also have a critical role.

A friend of mine recently reflected on her career choices and on the fact that when she and her husband had children they decided that the person earning more money would work, and the other one would stay home with the children. They had two boys, and now the second is about to enter school. Her husband is now going back into the workforce about about 5 years at home being the primary care-giver to their sons.

She reflected on how grateful she felt for his willingness to stay home with them, and the wonderful relationship and closeness her sons now have with their father. As a Mom working a fair number of hours and increasing in her leadership at work, she no doubt had moments of conflict about having to spend time away from her children. Knowing they had a good care-giver, their own father, I am sure put her concerns to rest much of the time.

I believe that time invested by fathers in knowing their children and having some time with them pays dividends in terms of the long-term well-being of children. It reminds me of times when my own father would take me to the movies on a weekend, just the two of us when I was about 5 years old. Mom was home with my younger sister when she was a baby, and we would go to see something like Pinocchio or a cartoon playing in our local small-town theater.

Sometimes we would stay for more than one showing! Back in those days (late 70’s/early 80’s) nobody cared about that, and we both loved these movies. There was usually a long feature, maybe one or two short ones and then they would plan the long one again. Perhaps this is where my love for mythical frameworks and stories comes from. I remember these early memories of having quality time with my Dad.

Before I started kindergarten my Dad had already taught me to read, and both he and my Mom read me many books and stories when I was young.  They were teachers and they valued reading and books. I remember loving the time before bed when we typically had time to be read a story. It was probably Mom doing this most of the time, but I recall Dad doing this as well.

father daughter

I wonder how our world might be different if we appreciated and honored the ways in which fathers play a role in caring for young people, and nurturing them in different ways. I absolutely honor and respect the work mothers do in nurturing children and caring for them. And I believe we have missing pieces if our fathers are not part of that story also. Many fathers do what is necessary to earn money, support their families and dole out the discipline (anyone else recognize: “Just WAIT until your father gets home!”).

But they must provide more than discipline and order to make a positive impact on a child’s life. They must provide love, acceptance, support and care. They are not a “bonus” parent, they are a necessary part of a child’s life. They shape the view that children absorb about how the world works. They help instill self-discipline sometimes, another value I learned from my own father.

Both daughters and sons benefit from this presence of a father, grandfather or some male parental figure or mentor us in our early growth and development. Sadly, the way the patriarchy casts and distorts masculinity, many of us are without these images of loving protection. Men are not supposed to be vulnerable or weak, and this affects how they interact with children. Modern and enlightened men realize that this ability to be vulnerable, especially with their loved ones and children, is what we often need and want in order to truly connect.

But when we lack these examples and images, all we are left with is father hunger. If we adopt a more inclusive view, along with valuing the contributions of both men and women to family life, I believe we can transform our culture.

Given our environmental and societal needs for healing and transformation, women and men working together are indeed what is needed. Fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, child-free women like myself and all of the good people in the world that realize the nature of our problems as one planet. We should hunger for peace and for unity, not for the fathers we may not have had in our lives.

 

 

 

 

Sunset of the patriarchy

I would like to make a toast to the end of patriarchal rule in America. Why?

It seems to me, with the almost daily revelations of men who have inappropriately groped women, or used their power to threaten and intimidate those with less power than them, we are reaching a new consciousness in our culture. It is a consciousness that will help women and men to feel empowered to fight the power structures that do not serve us.

I told my husband yesterday that I have recently discovered that about 99.9% of my women friends have had at least one (most more than that) of the following traumas in their lives: 1) being groped or harassed; 2) being intimidated, bullied or abused; 3) hating their body or suffering from an eating disorder.  It is really astonishing.

All of these traumas are ways women (and men) are held hostage to a patriarchal power structure. But to me, bringing all of this out into the open, revealing it, confronting it and discussing it, is the first step to healing. The balance of our planet has been disrupted. The yin and yang of feminine and masculine energies need equal measures to be most effective. We must move away from toxic masculinity toward a more inclusive world view.

Strangely enough, I think the shock of electing a president that has a history of woman abuse may have unleashed a powerful tide of feminist action. After the initial shock of the election, some of us realized we would need to get to work in a more deliberate and strategic way to start dismantling patriarchy in any and every way we can.

patriarchy

Photo credit link

For me, I had to take some time to reflect, journal, take care of myself and do some checking in with what types of activism will sustain me over the long haul. Back in my 20’s I was the campaign manager for a successful city council race. Despite being an introvert, I had the fire of Wellstone’s recent death in my soul. My desire for more progressive leaders to carry on the work fueled my efforts.

It was exhilarating, exhausting and satisfying. It cost me more money than I had, my career as I took time away from work to campaign, as well my family (a year after that my husband and I divorced) and possibly my sanity. I would not trade that experience for anything. But at the same time, I knew direct action in politics could not be my choice this time.

This blog is a part of my activism and commitment to be part of some larger story of the evolution of our culture. I work in a corporate patriarchy right now. While there are amazing efforts made to recognize that diversity drives innovation and better decision-making, it is still highly masculine in its structure. I do my part in creating an inclusive culture where I work. Sometimes I have to confront the “machismo” of the Latin American cultures as well in my quest.

Overall though, what I know is that patriarchy and corporate bureaucrazy do not serve us. These concepts are linked in my mind and I will explore the connection in a future post. When our political and organizational structures are not designed for inclusion, we all suffer. When women cannot be heard, or men must suppress their feelings in order not to appear weak, we all suffer. When we cannot fulfill the totality of our human experience because cultural norms teach us this is unacceptable, we all suffer.

I will be happy to toast the sunset of patriarchal rule because we are ready now to step beyond it. As a human species, we continue to evolve as we grow and change and develop new understanding about our interconnected natures. When we fully embrace all genders and all people as valuable and with potential for contribution, we all succeed. When all do better, we all do better. Women and men. Yin and yang.

I am not naive about this process. Like many movements, it will have a dance: two steps forward and one step back. So many of us believed our nation had evolved significantly in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected President. It is true, we had evolved since the turbulent 60’s when civil rights were at the forefront. But then, it felt like we stepped back again in 2016 when we regressed to a person who’s treatment of women is unacceptable.

But I find hope in the fact that his 62 million votes was 3 million less than her 65 million votes. Only a patriarchy would find a way to “invalidate” the math of the majority in an artificial way of maintaining the states rights slavery preservation that originated the electoral system…but I digress.

Will you join me in toasting the sunset of the patriarchy?

 

 

 

Activism needs introverts

If you have not seen the Ted Talk by Sarah Corbett bearing the title above, and you are interested in the topic, please watch it. Slowing down and thinking deeply is one way we make social change. I encourage you to view the video and/or view the transcript. I suspect many of you out there, as writers, reader and thinkers (that is what we bloggers do best, right?) may also be introverts.

As someone who is deeply concerned with the future of our planet, and many of the challenges facing us in the world today, I struggle sometimes with how to get involved.  Back when I used to do more political activities and campaign organizing, I realized these activities had tendency to burn me out. So I have been considering other ways I can engage people in social change. Sarah Corbett’s video is a beautiful affirmation that there are ways to become involved in a quieter way, and her story is powerful.

Introverts can make great leaders, when channeling their efforts in a way that fuels them. If you see yourself as a leader, but also know that you require a certain amount of solitude and down-time to recharge your batteries, I also recommend Susan Cain’s work. Her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking was game-changing for me. I saw myself in her work and realized that I was not the only introvert trying to fulfill my potential in an extrovert world.

Solitude can be a crucial ingredient to creativity. Having time for “deep work” and reflection are critical to choosing activities that are most productive and strategic. Our workplaces, schools and world is not really set up for introverts to thrive. Group work is encouraged in schools and required in the workplace. Offices is with “open” plans are designed to spur interaction a cafe-like atmosphere.

I had to fight to defend my office cube last year to be sure I could get a quiet corner to work when the clinical research floor went to an open plan. I spend 40-60% of my time in meetings (mostly teleconferences since my team is international). But when I need to focus on a particular project, I appreciate at least having some walls to keep out noise and block out peripheral distractions. I also work at home 1-2 days a week when I am not traveling, so that helps me manage my introvert energy. Also: I do not have to wear grown-up clothes on those days! 🙂

What about you? Are there strategies you use to go out into the world and get the work done you need to accomplish, while also honoring your introvert needs? For me, I am always sure to plan a lot of down time to recharge after I have had to travel or lead meetings. I would love to hear from you on this topic if you care to comment below.

 

Woman as Creator

There is a funny lyric in an Ani diFranco song that I like in her latest album from the song (alrighty):

next time i watch a man give birth
i’ll try to picture the creator as a dude with a beard
’cause right now i gotta say it’s seemin’ kind of weird

Ani Difranco Binary

Album cover from Binary

When we make a meal for our families, it is work. But it is also creation. It is making something out of other raw materials. It is a sacred and ordinary act. And yet, it is de-valued, and trivialized as “women’s work” so often.

What if we saw each act of caring for another human being as an act of creation? What if we considered our interactions with other people as a way to “create” an experience? How might this change our view of being a Creator?

What if we play with the notion that to create is human? To clean one’s space and arrange one’s home is to create an experience for oneself and one’s living companions.

I am not a fan of cleaning. I dislike it, actually. Right now I pay for the privilege of cleaning help once a month. Usually what happens before each cleaning is that I scramble about our rented townhome and spend time de-cluttering and putting things away, sorting and organizing.

I always saw home-caring as an unsavory burden, something that recalls times when my Mom asked me to clean my room. Usually I would go upstairs, begin the process, and then find a book that had been buried in a pile, and start reading.

Hours later, Mom would check on my progress. I had often finished the book and totally forgotten about cleaning my room. Dear Mother: thank you for your patience in raising me. I have been truly blessed.

When I consider that cooking and cleaning are acts of love for ourselves, and for the people who live with us, it creates less resistance for me. I used to joke that I refuse to conform to a “Latina stereotype” and therefore I calmly refuse to clean up after others. I have been in long-term relationships (one was an 8-year marriage) with men who loved to cook for a reason: I had no intention of carrying that load.

These days I am attempting to clean and organize my space because I would like to set up a true “office” at home. Right now my dear husband has ceded the dining room to my home office. But someday I would like to use it as a dining room again.

This means that I will spend time clearing out the spare room and fully cleaning and de-cluttering it. The job is intimidating to me, I admit. I have an interest in minimalism, and I completely cleaned out the closet in my spare room in the Spring of 2017.

Then Summer in Minnesota arrived, and with it, the desire to spend far more time outside, as is appropriate and necessary for a cold-weather people. No regrets on this, none whatsoever. But I am far from achieving a more minimalist ideal.

Now that winter has arrived, with it a bit of snow, and a desire for warm drinks and inside time, I will recommit to the KonMari effort I started back in the Spring. I am letting go again, and clearing space in my home and in my consciousness for the next “big thing.”

Returning to the original theme of this post: think of all the ways in your life that women are creators. For me, I realize I am the creator of my own life, and of my own experience. If I do not like where it is going, I have the power to change it. I can choose different actions, and create different results.

Women have always been Creators, giving birth not only to babies but to new ideas, to different ways of working in the world. Given that so many have been responsible for the care of our families, with or without mates to share the load, we are by nature creative and innovative.

When we fully own that creativity, and celebrate it, we begin to create great change in the world. We refuse to be caged in a reality that undervalues women. We begin to understand that our value comes from our own sense of worthiness, and that nobody’s opinion of us is more valid than our own belief in our efficacy.

Women of the world, we are Creators. Do not deny it. The world needs what we are willing to share. Let us have the courage not to worry about the “messiness” that occurs in the process of creation. Let us instead embrace the satisfaction we can take in truly owning our creative natures.

 

 

Feminista in bureaucrazy

I am a woman who often “walks” in a man’s world. In the industry of medical devices, there are a lot of engineers, and most of them are men, sadly. In the division where I work, which serves patients in Latin America, I often run up against challenges in systems that do not serve people. I also typically am in meetings where women are the minority (leadership), and Latina women a much tinier minority.

Systems rarely seem to serve people. It is people who serve people. Systems are set up sometimes to automate or provide tools that can help, but of course these are just the inventions of people. Systems serve a purpose, but it seems they can outgrow their original purpose at some point, and they can become inefficient and wasteful, the bigger they grow.

There is probably some natural growth maximum, beyond which systems start to break down and people start to work around those systems rather than through them. Even if the system is truly broken, it is hard to see this, because the people who know the “work-arounds” are there to keep the bigger corporate machine running. Managers and directors are often too far removed from how the work actually gets done. Since the workers bees rarely have much power in these systems, they do “what they have to do.”

bureaucrazy

Large for-profit corporations serve themselves, and work to increase their revenue to invest back into the business, so they can develop more products or services to offer to their customers. Businesses create jobs, and jobs employ people and pay income, so people can spend money and re-invest back into the system. Income is taxed, so the infrastructure that allowed for a stable market to allow job creation in the first place can be maintained, repaired and improved. It seems like a reasonable system, if significant investment goes back into R&D rather accumulating at the top.

Granted, when you make medical devices that are life-saving technology, profit is not all bad. If we re-invest a large portion of profit back into new inventions and technologies that can help people, that creates a “virtuous cycle,” and more new products get created to help more people. As long as not too much money gets funneled into padding corporate executive salaries and unnecessary layers of bureaucrazy, it is good for all, one might argue. (Every time I try to type bureaucracy it comes out with “z” automatically – this is Freudian, I realize…)

This is how basic economics works, yeah? There is the micro and the macro, and I learned much of this stuff back in college half a lifetime ago. Much of what humans do is “rationalized” as logical and a natural consequence of economic factors. However, a large proportion of behavior is not rational, but based on other factors: love, passion, a sense of belonging, a sense of meaning in what we do. It is not so easy to quantify the true factors that drive human behavior. While money is a motivator, especially for those that do not have enough, when you do have all of your basic needs met, many people start to ask: is this all there is?

Humans survived based on our ability to form stable connections and to take care of families and tribes. It is not so surprising then, that when it comes to choosing between things and people, sane people typically choose people. They value the connections in their lives. It is about quality and not quantity, and it is about REAL people, not facebook friends.  We know from extensive research and neuroscience that we are wired for connection, and we are wired for struggle.

Some missions are worth pursuing, like helping patients and creating life-saving medical technologies. Unfortunately the corporate structures that grow to support these goals can be stifling. They can dull our creative impulses and allow people to “hide out” in places where they appear to do work, while being unchallenged and under-utilized. As I consider where I want to use my skills in my next career move, I cannot help but think this time I’m gonna shop small. Cuz this bureaucrazy is killin’ me, man!